Mary Keitany takes a second straight London Marathon victory (Getty Images) © Copyright

Women's Marathon - PREVIEW

Such is the might of Kenya in the Marathon, they can afford to leave two sub-2:20 runners at home. But despite their depth in the event – and the fact they achieved an historic sweep of the medals at last year’s World Championships – a Kenyan woman has never won Olympic gold in the Marathon.

That could all be set to change though as Mary Keitany heads to London as the favourite. In her last race – which also happened to be in the British capital – the 30-year-old Kenyan set an African record of 2:18:37 to win the Virgin London Marathon. It was also the manner of her victory, with an incredible 67:44 second half, that stands her apart as the most dangerous athlete who will take to the start line on the morning of 5 August.

Her team-mates will be just as formidable. Edna Kiplagat won the World Championships last year and improved her PB to 2:19:50 to finish second at this year’s London Marathon. She warmed up for the Olympics with a comfortable 32:08 victory over 10km in New York in June. Aside from her low-key debut in 2005, Kiplagat has never finished outside the top three in a Marathon.

World silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo will be the third Kenyan in London, beating off the likes of Berlin Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat and Dubai second-placer Lucy Kabuu to make it on to the team. Like her Olympic team-mates, Jeptoo also set a PB in London this year, running 2:20:14 to finish third.

Although Keitany is the favourite, there will be two other women in the race with faster PBs. One of those is World Marathon Majors champion Liliya Shobukhova, who last year posted the second-fastest time in history with her 2:18:20 victory in Chicago. However, the Russian hasn’t competed at all this year and has never before competed in the marathon at a major championship, so she heads to London as something of an unknown quantity.

Unfortunately, World record-holder Paula Radcliffe who would have been competing in her fifth Olympics, withdrew from the event a few days before the start of the Athletics events in London. Sadly it looks as though the Briton will end her career without ever having won an Olympic medal.

Ethiopia will be fielding three sub-2:20 women in London. Tiki Gelana set a national record of 2:18:58 to win in Rotterdam earlier this year, while Aselefech Mergia (2:19:31) and Mare Dibaba (2:19:52) finished first and third respectively at the Dubai Marathon in January.

China is also expected to be strong. Zhu Xiaolin and Wang Jiali both finished in the top eight at last year’s World Championships and will be in action in London. They are joined on the team by Olympic bronze medallist Zhou Chunxiu, who earlier this year clocked 2:23:42 – her fastest time since winning the London Marathon in 2007.

Other contenders include former London and Berlin winner Irina Mikitenko of Germany, Italian record-holder Valeria Straneo, and Osaka Marathon winner Risa Shigetomo of Japan.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF